To date, OSHA has no federal standards for the protection of indoor and outdoor workers against extremely hot environments. This heat exposure can lead to an often fatal condition called heat stress. Federal data shows that heat stress killed 783 U.S. workers and seriously injured 69,374 others between the years 1992 and 2016. North Carolina residents should know, however, that there may be changes on the way.
In an effort to create heat stress standards, 130 groups are petitioning OSHA. This coalition has even made a list of provisions that they believe should be included in those standards. For example, they are pushing for more frequent rest breaks and access to cool, shady resting areas for workers; adequate hydration; protective equipment like water-cooled and air-cooled garments; and medical monitoring for at-risk employees.
Other proposals include the institution of whistleblower protection programs so that those who witness abuses of heat stress standards can speak without fear of retaliation. Employers should also acclimatize new employees to hot conditions, give prior notification when heat stress hazards are present and create plans outlining what to do when heat waves are forecast.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also recommended that OSHA create such measures in 1972, 1986 and 2016. OSHA has issued citations for heat-related safety violations before under the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause, but groups say this is not enough.
Those who suffer from heat stress may find it hard to show just how, if at all, an employer was negligent. The safe course is to file a workers’ compensation claim as this can reimburse a victim for medical expenses and some of their lost wages without the need for litigation. In fact, victims waive their right to sue their employers if they file for workers’ comp. A lawyer can evaluate the claim and mount an appeal if the claim is denied.